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CD REVIEW

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Shostakovich 5, 8 9
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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (1943) [58:40]
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Artur Rodzinski
rec. live, New York, 15 October 1944
GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD 2322 [59:06]




The earliest known preserved performance of the Eighth is the Boston/Koussevitzky of April 1943. This New York/Rodzinski followed eighteen months later; both were recorded in concert and the first commercial release was not until the 1947 Mravinsky.

This is the context in which we should listen to this fascinating broadcast and one should further note the conductor’s affiliation with Shostakovich – he had set down recordings of the First and Fifth Symphonies with his Cleveland orchestra and had given the American premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in January 1935. It’s arguable in fact whether there was anyone better on the American scene to take on a new score by the composer.

This is a taut, perceptive, intelligently conducted reading. The opening movement is highly impressive with Rodzinski slowly increasing the tension from the mid point onwards; the martial rhythms at 15:20 register viscerally but sectional balance retains integrity. The Allegretto is grittily done and the central movement is taken at a Kondrashin-like tempo. The Largo is eloquent and controlled and ends with great warmth whilst the finale is strong, purposeful and unambiguously heroic. The playing of the wind principals, and especially the cor anglais player, is distinguished throughout.

There are perhaps inevitably some technical frailties. Chording is not precise, especially in the opening movement, and there is some ragged playing especially in the Allegretto. The recording is not always free from congestion but whilst the sound has a more limited range than is ideal I wouldn’t want to suggest that it’s at all bad. In fact for the period, and considering the questions of balance and orchestration involved, it comes over very well.

Peter Reynolds has done well in his remastering and Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes admirably convey the salient features of both work and this particular performance. He certainly did well to remind this reviewer about the Cleveland First because it had completely slipped my mind.

In short this is valuable work; a fiery, intense contemporary performance captured in very reasonable sound and performed by one of Shostakovich’s most perceptive and understanding Western interpreters.

Jonathan Woolf


see also Review by Christopher Howell

 


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